DEEP RIVER >> Former Valley Regional assistant coach Jeff Bernardi returned to Deep River on Friday night. Bernardi, now in his third season as East Lyme’s head coach, helped the Warriors win two state titles (2011 and 2013) during his five seasons at Valley.
“It was a little awkward between seeing all the kids and then coming here and being in this locker room,” said Bernardi, who still teaches social studies at Valley Regional. “Definitely looking around and seeing all the banners and pictures was a bit nostalgic.”
Behind sophomore guards Luke Leonard and Dev Ostrowski, the Vikings defeated Valley Regional, 63-49, in an intriguing non-league matchup.
“It was nice to see Jeff in the gym again,” Valley Regional coach Kevin Woods said. “It’s a good spirited rivalry and it was fun starting something that hopefully will be a tradition.”
Leonard, a sharp-shooting lefthander, finished with a game-high 23 points, while Ostrowski scored 20 points, including 14 in the second half. Ostrowski also grabbed 10 rebounds.
Junior forward Colin Sparaco scored 20 points and senior guard Jordan Moran chipped in 10 points for the Warriors, who trailed 34-29 at halftime.
Seven of Valley’s nine first half field goals were 3-pointers, including four from Sparaco,
“We knew they live by the three so we tried to clampdown on their three-point shooting and I thought we did a better job of that in the second half,” Bernardi said.
Leonard paced the Vikings with 15 first half points. He also netted a pull-up jumper and a 3-pointer late in the third quarter that gave East Lyme a 47-37 advantage.
“Luke was great tonight,” Bernardi said. “Dev got off to a slow start but Luke was on fire from the beginning.”
Valley Regional (5-8) got as close as 49-43 on Moran’s 3-pointer with 7:19 remaining.
“There’s no doubt we are better than our record,” Woods said. “Our youth and inexperience has cost us in games we should have won but our grit and resolve has kept us in games that no one expects us to be in.”
But the Vikings (9-4) responded with a decisive 8-0 run. Leonard started things with a putback, Ostrowski converted a fast break layup off a turnover, Ben Bennett scored on an offensive rebound, and Ostrowski’s fall away jumper made it 57-43 with 4:53 left to play.
“We can’t give up second chance points,” Woods said. “There were some untimely shots that got them out running in the second half for some easy baskets and we didn’t get those.”
Bernardi led the Vikings to a Class L state tournament berth a year ago.
“I see a lot of parallels between my time at Valley and what is happening at East Lyme,” Bernardi said. “Two years before I got to Valley they were 1-19 and we were 1-19 my first year here. Last year we had double-digit wins and this year we’re hoping to build on that some more.”